Ain’t Released Me Yet
Memoirs of a REMF
Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.
Wrapping Up Our First Week of Training
“The average bright young man who is drafted hates the whole business because an army always tries to eliminate the individual differences in men.” ........Andy Rooney
During our first week of training we were again marched to the barbershop for our second haircut. This time we only had one choice, the #1. There was no #2, #3, or #4. Everyone got a #1 and had to pay for it whether they needed it or not.
During the eight-week BCT cycle we were exposed to the most important basic skills of a combat soldier. I say “basic skills” because not every trainee was to become an infantry soldier, or “grunt.” All recruits received this basic “grunt” training, but only those who were either unlucky or of questionable mental state would go on to Advanced Infantry Training and become a full-fledged “grunt.” Most recruits would end up in some other MOS (Military Occupation Specialty).
The Army told us, “training had been designed to strengthen us in mind and body for our job in the Army and to provide a firm foundation for further military education.” And as the trainers liked to say, it would “test our physical stamina and strength.” Our “yearbook,” which would be given to us at graduation from BCT, stated that this was the “start of a new life.” Our training taught us unquestioned obedience. Orders were to be obeyed immediately. Not to do so invited immediate punishment. There was no thinking about an order or questioning one. This was programmed into us as part of the “tear them down and rebuild them” training strategy.
Many hours were spent in classroom instruction during our first week. This required pages of memorization in topics such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the Geneva Convention, personal hygiene (some guys really needed it), chain-of-command, land navigation (map reading), names and positions for each PT exercise, rules of the rifle ranges, weapons – “The M14 rifle is a 7.62-mm, magazine fed, gas operated, air-cooled, semiautomatic, shoulder type weapon” - and our eleven General Orders (today’s trainee only has three to memorize).
Days were long during BCT, typically beginning at 0400 hours (4:00 AM) and not ending on some days until 2200 or 2230 hours (10:00 or 10:30 PM). In the eight weeks of BCT there were 356 scheduled hours of instruction. That equated to forty-four hours a week and did not include the “practical application,” or practice, of that instruction. Nor did those 356 hours include all the marching, drilling, and PT that we suffered through. I wrote to Carol Ann, “We do a hell of a lot of marching.” That was an understatement.
While still in our first week of BCT, Drill SGT Lever marched us to the PX. It would be my second attempt to purchase the required list of items for my foot and wall locker displays mentioned earlier. These items included the specific brand and color of toothbrush, toothpaste, shoe polish, shoe brushes, brass polish (Brasso), clothes hangers, soap and soap dishes, razor and razor blades, shaving cream, deodorant, shower shoes, and towels (we were issued towels but a second set was required for our “display”).
It was mandatory for each trainee’s display to be identical in looks, brand, color, and placement. These items were arranged in the top tray of the footlocker and on the shelf of the clothes locker. Clothing was hung on coat hangers with clothing and hangers all facing the same direction and spaced a specific distance apart.
Toilet articles in the display were never used. The toiletries that we did use were hidden from view but I don’t remember how we did that. This required duplicate purchases of each item. We used our pay advance to purchase these items.
The group and individual photographs taken earlier would also be deducted from our first payday. Before our first payday I was beginning to wonder if there would be anything left after the many deductions and my wife's allotment. I even began to worry that I might owe the Army.
The paltry pay as an E-1 recruit was $103 per month. To put that into its proper perspective, prior to being drafted, I made approximately $1,000 a month as a registered pharmacist, almost ten times as much as an E-1. I elected to have $40 a month deducted from the $103 as a “Class-Q” Allotment. Uncle Sam would add $60 to that $40 and send my wife a check for $100 each month. Every private in the Army would have easily qualified for welfare.
When that first payday arrived at the end of February, the deductions from my $103 included the $40 allotment for Carol Ann, the $25 pay advance, and $13 for the “class” photographs. In addition, there were laundry charges, social security, and taxes. Fortunately, as it turned out, I didn’t owe the Army anything after all. However, my net pay for the month was only $12.44, or the equivalent of about thirty cents an hour.
The Army did not pay by check. It was strictly cash. I wrote home, “They pay in cash and you get it whether you want it or not.” Most servicemen elected to draw only a small portion as cash and have the balance deposited in a bank account. I had opted to draw only forty dollars in cash each month. Maybe I would get closer to that $40 on the next payday.
I wrote Carol Ann that after being paid “we were allowed one hour that afternoon to visit the PX. One whole hour! Our first time out from under the Drill Sergeants’ wings! One whole hour!”
I was also thinking more about my future. Did I really want to be an officer? Originally, I thought I did because I was a college graduate and a pharmacist. But by going to OCS and receiving a commission I would be committed to almost four years of service instead of two years if I remained an enlisted man. It was also possible to reduce my two-year commitment to only about nineteen months with an “early out”. If I went to Vietnam (and we all assumed we would go) as an enlisted man and extended my twelve-month tour by a couple of months so that I returned to the states with 150 days or less remaining to serve, I would be discharged and sent home (this is what I eventually did). It wasn’t worth it to Uncle Sam to send you home on a thirty-day paid vacation and then station you somewhere stateside for only a few months. We were not needed stateside. Once the Army took all that a soldier had to give in Vietnam, he was no longer of much use to Uncle Sam. Discharging us early would save the Army money. The bottom line was that as an officer I would serve almost four years but as an enlisted man I could serve less than two years. Being an officer wasn’t looking so good anymore.
I also learned that there were other college graduates in BCT who were not going to OCS. Instead they planned on taking the shorter enlisted route and not staying any longer than they had to. If you put a pencil to it and did the math it would show that I was losing a considerable sum of potential income as a registered pharmacist for each month I remained in the Army. Having a pregnant wife at home was also cause for questioning the decision to attend OCS.
On Thursday, February 13, 1969 I spoke with my DI, SGT Ledbetter, about my dilemma. His advice was similar to that of the pharmacist I spoke to at the hospital. That was, to drop OCS and see about getting a transfer into the MSC (Medical Service Corps). On Friday, February 21, 1969 I had a meeting with the company’s training officer who also served as a counselor and advisor for OCS candidates. I told him my story and, surprise; he advised that I stick with OCS. He also informed me that I could not drop OCS until I was in AIT (Advanced Individual Training). He also informed me that once commissioned I would be required to serve at least one year in my commissioned branch before I was eligible to even request a branch transfer to the Medical Service Corps and its approval would be highly unlikely. Talk about bursting my bubble! It would do me no good to worry about it until I got to AIT.
There is an old adage, which says, “never volunteer for anything.” Drill Instructors enjoyed picking on college graduates and would frequently ask for college graduates to raise their hands. The DI would then ask if any of those college graduates had any ROTC experience. Those who raised their hands were often "volunteered" for an especially nasty detail. You learned not to raise your hand for anything. The mantra was “NEVER VOLUNTEER.” However, I did raise my hand once and it actually worked to my advantage. We were marched to the base hospital for a mandatory blood donation. I was not looking forward to donating blood because we still had more PT and drilling to do that day and I needed all of the strength I could muster. That said, when the DI asked for a college graduate, I raised my hand and wound up being placed in charge of labeling blood bags, refrigerating the blood, and checking off each trainee's name as they donated. I was smarter than the DI gave a college graduate credit and checked off my own name even though I never donated any blood. Another personal victory for me to enjoy.
To be continued in Chapter 10, More PT, Drill Sergeant!….